FORT WORTH, Texas — Tyler Reddick this time made it into the round of 12 that starts in Texas, where last year he won a tumultuous and tiring race right after just missing the cut in NASCAR’s playoffs.
With a win at Kansas after opening these Cup Series playoffs with a runner-up finish at Darlington, Reddick advanced and already is thinking about what he needs to do to make it past this three-race round in his first season with 23XI Racing.
“It’s about having smooth days and somewhat consistent finishes,” said Reddick, who finished 15th at Bristol last weekend and will start 15th in Sunday’s race. “I think if we can stay in the top 15 each of these races in this next round, when even regardless of a win, I think we’ll be in good shape to make it through the round of eight. And then obviously it’s a little trickier.”
Of course, another win at Texas on Sunday would give Reddick an automatic pass into the round of eight — same as a win would do for any of the other 11 remaining playoff contenders.
That group includes Kyle Busch, now driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing that Reddick took to victory lane in Texas, a race scheduled for 100 fewer miles this year.
Reddick now sits eighth in the standings, only three points ahead of the cutoff to advance. Bubba Wallace, his 23XI Racing teammate, is 12th but still alive in the playoffs, with Texas, Talladega and the Roval in Charlotte to go before the elimination of four more drivers.
Wallace bettered his playoff chances by winning pole Saturday. He turned a lap of 188.337 m.p.h. in the final round of qualifying, finishing ahead of fellow playoff contenders and RFK Racing teammates Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski.
“Was I expecting it? I don’t know,” said Wallace after winning his second career pole. “Qualifying, you know, I tend to try too hard and overthink things. And that’s my problem with life, I need to stop doing it, I just need to just go out and do. So that was a good surprise.”
Buescher will start on the front row Sunday with Wallace after a final lap of 188.081 mph. Keselowski, who is the owner of Buescher’s No. 17 car, qualified third at 187.891 mph.
Christopher Bell was among the 10 drivers that advanced to the final round of qualifying, but he will start ninth after being on the pole for each of the first three playoff races.
Also alive is Denny Hamlin, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver still looking for his first Cup title and a partner in the Michael Jordan-owned 23XI team. Hamlin is third after winning at Bristol and is considered one of the favorites at the Texas track where he has won three times. He’ll start 10th Sunday.
“Certainly based off of speed that we show week in and week out, absolutely I believe that we’re one of the best four teams out there that should compete for a championship in Phoenix,” Hamlin said Saturday. “Sometimes things are out of your control, but if they stay within our control, I do believe that this year that we will be tough to beat.”
The second-round opener at Texas was highlighted last year by multiple tire issues leading to crashes — Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all blew tires when leading. There were a track-record 16 cautions, a record 36 lead changes and a 56-minute red flag for rain and lightning in the area.
“It was a little bit of an oddity,” Reddick said. “I think it’ll be a less crazy race (this year) ... more straightforward.”
While many of those tire issues a year ago were the result of teams pushing the limits, Goodyear brought new right-side tires for this race at the 1½-mile oval that has different banking at both ends of the track.
Reddick led 53 of the final 54 laps last year, when he lost a lap early when the team thought it had a loose wheel, lost track position again after contact with another driver going into Turn 1 and later almost crashed when some safety foam inside the cockpit came loose and got stuck on the steering wheel.
“I don’t know where to even start. Probably the most disastrous race I’ve had in my Cup career, this race one year ago,” Reddick said. “We just got fortunate and had tires at the right time.”
He finished 1.19 seconds ahead of Joey Logano, who went on to win the season title last year.
But Logano already is out of contention to become NASCAR’s first repeat Cup champion since Jimmie Johnson won five in a row from 2006-10. Logano was among the first four playoff drivers eliminated this year, when he was 13th in the standings after Bristol.
William Byron goes into Texas with the standings lead, thanks to a series-high five wins, and he’ll start 18th. That is two spots behind Martin Truex Jr., who has the same number of points but two fewer wins than Byron.
“I definitely think it’s my best chance at it so far. You know, I look at being 25 years old and I feel like I have a lot of opportunities at this,” Byron said. “So this is a learning experience to see what the pressure is like getting to Phoenix. … Feel like each year has been a steady progression on that steady learning curve. So I just want to keep that going and try to make that next step.”
Temperatures were in the upper 90s last year at Texas, making it the hottest Cup race there. That could be surpassed this year when the high Sunday could reach 100 degrees.
Nemechek advances in Xfinity playoffs
John Hunter Nemechek moved into the round of eight of the Xfinity Series playoffs with a win at Texas, where he took the final lead after front-running Justin Allgaier got moved up the track on the 195th of 200 laps on Saturday.
It was the seventh win of the season for Nemechek, the fifth in the past 12 races in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
The top eight finishers were all playoff contenders, with only a race at the Roval in Charlotte in two weeks remaining before the series moves into its second playoff round. There will be nine drivers competing for five remaining spots.